The founding editors of the British journal Soundings—Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin—have published an online manifesto in which they argue for disrupting the current neoliberal common sense and challenging the assumptions that organize our twenty-first-century political discourse.
Three ideas are, in my view, particularly important. First, “mainstream political debate simply does not recognise the depth of this crisis, nor the consequent need for radical rethinking.” That indictment is accurate not only for the current political debate but also for mainstream political and economic thought, both liberal and conservative—although there are plenty of intellectuals who are willing to take the “pay to play” in the sandbox of neoliberalism.
Second, neoliberalism has never succeeded in conquering everything. It is, instead, a project, an attempt—not always or everywhere successful—to colonize the world.
It operated within, and created, a world of great diversity and unevenness. Its early – classic – laboratory was Chile, but the rise of South East Asian tigers was, critically, a state-aided development (by no means the official neoliberal recipe). And in spite of the Western triumphalism of 1989, Russia also retains its specificities – a hybrid of oligarchic and state capitalism combined with authoritarianism. China, too, struggles to define a different model; it currently combines centralised party control with openness to foreign investment, and acute internal geographical dislocations and widespread social conflict with break-neck rates of growth and the lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty. Indeed, conflict has erupted in many parts of the world where the neoliberal orthodoxy has been adopted. India, so frequently lauded for its embrace of the market consensus, exhibits both extraordinary rifts between the new elites and the impoverished, and multiple and persistent conflicts over its current economic strategy. Other major sites of conflict have been the water and gas wars in Bolivia, and the struggle of ‘the poors’ in Thailand. The emerging articulations of progressive governments and grassroots social movements in Latin America are, in varying ways and in varying degrees, responses to the impact of previous neoliberal policies. The alter-globalisation movement has been vocal. This has not been a simple victory.
Third, the shift in economic and social power since the 1970s has not been driven by a simple logic or single motor.
The economic is critical; but it cannot determine everything – even ‘in the last instance’, as Althusser famously argued. Any given conjuncture represents, rather, the fusion ‘into a ruptural unity’ of an ensemble of economic, social, political and ideological factors where ‘dissimilar currents … heterogeneous class interests … contrary political and social strivings’ fuse. What has come together in the current neoliberal conjuncture includes class and other social interests, new institutional arrangements, the exercise of excessive influence by private corporations over democratic processes, political developments such as the recruitment of New Labour to the neoliberal consensus, the effects of legitimising ideologies and a quasi-religious belief in the ‘hidden hand’, and the self- propelling virtues of ‘the market’.
So, there we have it: a neoliberal order in crisis that simply cannot be grasped or contained by mainstream political and economic thought, which has only ever involved an incomplete and always-contested attempt to remake the world, and which represents the contradictory fusion of economic and non-economic processes and events.
That’s a very good start. I look forward to reading the next installments of the Kilburn Manifesto.